How Not To Feel Lonely As A CEO

Today I spoke at an executive luncheon for CEOs and executives from different companies. It was a Q&A format so there was a lot of questions asked about the different things that CEOs deal with. Talking with them I was reminded of the stresses they were carrying on their shoulders and I could remember feeling all those emotions myself when I was CEO of a growing company.  I found myself blurting out “It can feel really lonely sometimes being a CEO, can’t it?” Everyone nodded and you could feel everyone exhale – like a secret that no one ever talks about but everyone who has been CEO knows had come out – and there was this wave of relief as everyone recognized, “I’m not the only one who has felt that way”…

I went on to share lessons I learned about where the loneliness begins, what often causes it to grow, and what I learned to do that made it go away:

As CEO you are surrounded by a team of amazing employees – I personally had the greatest employees in the world on my team – but as CEO there is this mantle of responsibility you feel because you know the team is counting on you to lead them and to make everything turn out okay. You feel you are carrying this burden that no one else really understands…that is how those feelings of loneliness begin…

The problem is that what most leaders do with the mantle is they start convincing themselves that showing any weakness or vulnerability is a bad thing, because then your employees won’t think they can count on you as their leader, and other people might not thing you can handle the job. So leaders start to hide any weakness or vulnerabilities in order to project a picture of “I’ve got this”. The more they do that, the greater that feeling of loneliness grows…

What makes the loneliness go away was something it took me years as a CEO to finally figure out, but once I did, I wished I could have known it from the start. For the loneliness to go away, you’ve got to let your vulnerability show with your employees, your investors, and your board. Stop acting like you know it all or that you have it all under control. The more you open up to all of them about the fact that you don’t have all the answers, and you recognize the weaknesses you’ve got to overcome, and you worry every day about whether you’re making the best decisions for the company because you are afraid of letting anyone down….the more you are honest with them about those things, the more they are going to want to help you to succeed. When I finally figured that out it was unbelievably humbling for me to see the way people rallied to help me – and just like that, the loneliness was gone.

~Amy Rees Anderson

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